Although film stars are widely-known public figures, few people ever get to meet an actual star in person. Instead, it is through the combination of film performances, promotion, publicity, and criticism that film stars reach the broad moviegoing public. Consequently, films stars are mediated identities. Somewhere in the world there is the real Tom Hanks; however, the vast majority of the public will know only the mediated Tom Hanks. Films, promotion or publicity materials, and criticism are various forms of textual materials that mediate the identities of stars. As star texts cluster around a given name, they define the identities of individual stars, and as they accumulate over time, they also form a public sense of film stardom in general.
In an acting career spanning more than five decades, Clint Eastwood achieved stardom by epitomizing tough masculine independence. This image was the product not only of the characters he played, but of a performance style that remained emotionally impassive and contained. Although Eastwood played a variety of roles, his stardom was defined by those he took in westerns directed by Sergio Leone and police thrillers directed by Don Siegel.
Following a succession of minor film roles, Eastwood obtained steady work as the character Rowdy Yates in the TV western series Rawhide (1959–1966). This generic association led to Eastwood's casting in Leone's famous "Dollars Trilogy" of Italian or "spaghetti" westerns: Per un pugno di dollari ( A Fistful of Dollars , 1964), Per qualche dollaro in più ( For a Few Dollars More , 1965), and Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo ( The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly , 1966), in which Eastwood appeared as The Man With No Name, an anonymous bounty hunter practicing his trade along the US-Mexican border. Afterward, Eastwood worked with Siegel in Coogan's Bluff (1968), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and Dirty Harry (1971), where he made his first appearance as San Francisco police Inspector Harry Callahan, a role he reprised in four later films.
Eastwood carried the same performance characteristics across both roles—taciturn manner, emotionless expressions, deadpan witticisms. No Name and Callahan are singular men who refuse allegiance to any larger collective or institution. They represent qualities of independent individualism that convey broader ideas of social and political significance. No Name is a mercenary hero, serving only his own interest and profiting from death. When placed in the context of the American western, the ambiguity of this character questions and subverts the moral ground on which the genre built a sense of national identity. Callahan remains a more reactionary figure, for while he cannot align himself with the institutionalized law, which he regards as inadequate to maintaining social order, he searches for a more effective moral code that legitimates the enforcer's use of brutality, torture, and gun violence. In both cases, Eastwood's emotionless acting underscored the moral ambivalence of the characters.
Eastwood made further westerns, including The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Pale Rider (1985), while the final outing for the Callahan character came with The Dead Pool (1988). Although the Leone and Siegel films continued to define Eastwood's image, he diversified his generic range by appearing in comedy ( Every Which Way But Loose , 1978) and romantic drama ( The Bridges of Madison County , 1995). Alongside his acting, Play Misty for Me (1971) and High Plains Drifter (1973) also established Eastwood as a critically praised director, and he won Oscars ® for his directing of Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
As Actor: Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars , 1964), Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, 1966), Dirty Harry (1971); As Actor and Director: Play Misty for Me (1971), High Plains Drifter (1973), Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004); As Director: Bird (1988), Mystic River (2003)
Beard, William. Persistence of Double Vision: Essays on Clint Eastwood . Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2000.
Bingham, Dennis. Acting Male: Masculinities in the Films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood . New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
Kapsis, Robert E., and Kathie Coblentz, eds. Clint Eastwood: Interviews . Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
Schickel, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography . New York: Knopf, 1996.
Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
It was a focus on the mediation of star identities which, during the late 1970s, stimulated and energized the growth of star studies as a distinct stream of research
in film scholarship. The key to this development was the original publication in 1979 of Richard Dyer's book Stars . Dyer drew on historical, sociological, and psychological works to review previous scholarship on film stars and presented his own fresh approach to the study of film stardom. He did not contemplate the biographical truth of a star—the star-as-person—but concentrated instead on what he described as the "star image." Although the term "image" may suggest that Dyer was interested only in the visual texts mediating star identities, he emphasized that the study of star images must encompass the whole range of visual, verbal, and auditory star texts circulated through films, promotion, publicity, and criticism.
Dyer's approach was grounded in a semiotic form of analysis, in which a star's performance in a film is constructed across a combination of signs: visual (for example, hair color or style, the shapes of facial features, aspects of physical build, gestures, and costume), verbal (words spoken from a script or familiar turns of phrase) and nonverbal (the speed and volume of the voice, or dialect). Together these signs combine to form the star's on-screen image.
A star's performances produce the on-screen image but DeCordova argues that American cinema did not achieve a fully formed star system until the second decade of the twentieth century, when the press and other media began to run stories covering the private lives of stars. This trend has continued ever since with newspapers and magazines publishing stories and photos relating to the social events a star has attended, whom he or she is dating, his or her tastes in fashion, or the star's home. As these materials multiply the volume of signs in circulation about a star, they work to produce his or her off-screen image.
Fundamental to Dyer's perspective was a regard for film stars as constructed images. At the most basic level, a star's image is constructed because at any moment an actor's performance is formed through the confluence of many signs and meanings. Star images are also intertextual constructions, for they are produced through the sharing and linking of meanings between a variety of sources of star texts. Finally, the meanings attached to any of the signs that make up the star's image are contingent upon particular historical and cultural circumstances. At different historical moments, images of different stars have defined audiences' ideas of beauty or desirability, for example. Star images are therefore cultural constructions, for the signs they present and the meanings they generate are products of the cultural circumstances in which they are circulated and read.
When the star-as-person is replaced by the star-as-image, the significance of particular stars is no longer explained by recourse to ineffable essential qualities of charisma or magnetism but rather through exploring how a star's significance is, or was, constructed through the tangible textual materials by which the images of stars are circulated.
Reading stars as images concentrates on regarding film stars as mediated identities. Such images are never the straightforward or transparent portrayal of the real personality of a star, but rather, represent an identity made and circulated through channels of mass communication. Whatever meanings are generated through those images may or may not correspond to the actual personality of a star; however, this does not mean the star image is something supplementary, untrue, or inauthentic, behind which lies the hidden truth of the real star. Instead, star image studies regard the image as the only means by which the public knows a star, and so assume that the truth or reality of any star is in the image. It is the work of analysis, then, to show how the various signs and texts that construct the image of a star serve to produce meaning and thereby construct what is known about a star.
Dyer's star-image approach considered how the meanings of star images are formed through, and reproduce, wider belief systems in society. At one level, star images provide us with the identities by which we are able to conceptualize distinct individual star identities, for example "Zeenat Aman," "Amitabh Bachchan," "Theda Bara," "Maurice Chevalier," "David Niven," "Shirley Temple" or "Bruce Willis." Each name represents an individual unique star identity. Equally, however, and in a contradictory manner, star images are also important for their typicality rather than their uniqueness. Star images are marketable or intelligible to the broad moviegoing public only because they represent socially and culturally shared meanings of masculinity or femininity, ethnicity, national identity, sexuality, or maturity, for example. Star images are therefore always socially meaningful images, and it is in their social significance that their ideological meaning can be read.
As a socially meaningful image, the significance of any star image inside the cinema is always the result of meanings produced outside the cinema, elsewhere in society. Dyer further explored the relations between star images and society in his 1987 study Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society . Here he enriched the study of star images by seeking to situate the meanings of stars historically, taking star texts and attending to how their ideological significance related to the context in which they circulated. For his study of Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962) in Heavenly Bodies , Dyer used the sexiness of Monroe's image to consider the historical significance of her image in relation to ideas of sexuality and femininity at the time she first reached stardom in 1950s America. He explored how that image in the early 1950s was consistent with beliefs about the naturalness and innocence of sexuality, promoted in particular through the men's magazine Playboy , first published in 1953. For Dyer, the Monroe image appeared to enact the Playboy "philosophy" (p. 28). As Playboy addressed its male readership about the truth and naturalness of sex, so Monroe's image appeared to unproblematically affirm the correspondence of female sexuality to those beliefs.
By constructing his sense of context in this way, Dyer did not seek to situate his reading of Monroe and sexuality in relation to actual sexual practice in the 1950s. Rather, he interpreted Monroe through the ideas or discourses of sexuality circulating in the era, a collection of texts coexisting within a context of other texts, which together constructed notions of sexual truth and pleasure during the 1950s. If Stars made the study of star images into a work of intertextual analysis, that is, reading across a range of textual materials to see how they constructed the mediated identity of the star, then Heavenly Bodies extended that work into an interdiscursive realm by considering how the images of stars related to broader clusters of ideas and perceptions in circulation.